I’m going to divide this post into titled sections to avoid people having to read content that is not relevant to them. However, I really needed to write all of this down, so I’m going to be long winded today.
Topic 1: Stress Itself
Stress is a primitive physiological and psychological reaction to a perceived threat or some kind. We, as animals, need stress to survive. We probably need it a little less in the 21st century because there are less immediate, nearby, threats to our lives than there were in the times of nomadic men or hunter-gatherers (lions, tigers and bears oh my) but nonetheless we need to learn from certain fears and expectations of danger so we can prevent death or harm to ourselves.
Some individuals take “necessary stress” to a whole new level and fear everything. Fear of getting emotionally hurt, fear of being alone, fear of trying something new, fear of failing, stress of too many hours at work, stress of relationships not going as planned, etc.
When we stress our body releases good and necessary hormones to do two things:
- Motivate us to act
- Protect our physiological systems during the action so we are able to perform well and not do damage
However, like all good things, they are only good in moderation. Epinephrine and norepinephrine released to motivate action raise blood pressure, increase heart rate, improve oxygenation in the lungs and increase alertness. Cortisol and glucocorticoids are anti-inflammatory and prevent damage to various systems but also increase available blood glucose and blood pressure.
Now, if we take this stress reaction and put it to good use, it’s very effective. Our bodies are smart and strong and can rebalance and bring us to homeostasis. However, if we abuse this system and feel stress constantly, problems can arise.
Topic 2: Possible Stressors
- Fears instilled in us by society, upbringing and how we let those values define our worth.
“I’ll never get married.”
“I’ll never be as successful as my parents.”
“I’ll never have children.”
“I’m never going to get promoted at my job.”
“They’re going to fire me.”
“I’m going to fail that test tomorrow.”
These types of stressors are… well, made up. Who says you HAVE to get married? Who says you HAVE to do well on an exam that we created for you by fallible and subjective individuals? Even if they do fire you, so the f*ck what? These are society-made fears and society is a man-made construct. If society doesn’t think you are good enough, that is one (or many opinions) that you can choose to accept to not accept.
Back in the day, you could have been shunned, burned at the stake, or left in the wilderness for not “fitting in” but lucky for you, the world has evolved enough that that is no longer a legitimate fear. Get over it and let your freak flag fly.
“Do whatever you feel in your heart to be right for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.”
- Fears with a strong basis
“I don’t have any food or money and I’m starving.”
“I am lost in the wilderness without shelter.”
“A man with a knife is chasing me.”
“I am losing my memory, my sanity and I no longer understand what is real and what is not.”
“I am going into surgery/chemotherapy/etc. and I’m afraid of what will happen.”
I feel like these are pretty obvious. They relate to maintenance of life and there are legitimate dangers. These stressors are “secondary” to a primary problem. If you fix the primary problem, they should subside on their own.
Topic 3: Healthy Coping Strategies
- Change/Remove your expectations
If you have limited to no expectations, you will never be disappointed in the outcome of your situation. There are effective ways to do this that involve understanding what you have to offer the world and focusing on what you can actually do rather than what you cannot.
Every religion has one form of this or another but if you’d like to read about learning to know yourself I recommend the pdf called Five Ways to Know Yourself.
You can strive to achieve something without expecting it to happen.
- Accept the stressor the way it is
Acceptance for what reality truly is very important. We must first accept the way thing are before we can work on changing them. We have to accept things with objective peacefulness.
Bad example: My situation is shitty and I hate it. I accept that.
Good example: My situation is challenging and painful. However, that’s just the way it is right now.
If you have it in your power and control to change something about your situation (always yourself, your actions, or your response to others’ actions), then by all means do it!
You cannot change others or the way the wind blows. Act on the parts that you can change and do not push for change in others.
Topic 4: Unhealthy Coping Strategies
My personal favorite tied with Sex/Relationships.
You cannot fill your emptiness with food. You cannot distract yourself from your problems with food.
You cannot fill your emptiness with other people unless they are substantial to you. Meaningful connections are the only way you are going to feel full.
A serious clarification needed here though. Sex and relationships on their own are good. Dating or sleeping around is not innately bad. However, it is not a COPING MECHANISM. It is a fun and potentially worthwhile activity (if you’re doing it right).
- Drugs, Drinking, Tobacco
Temporary highs followed by longer and lower lows.
This is when stress has reached the point that you are in a giant hole of stress, covered in stress dirt and being crawled on by stress worms. Get the f*!k out of the hole and pick a better strategy. If you need help please call a licensed and professional therapist, close family member or friend, or crisis hotline.
You can do other things. It’s hard but possible.
- Pity Parties/Whine Tastings
This is so addictive. You hang out and tell everyone how stressed you are repeatedly until everyone gets tired of your negativity and you’re forced to make a whole new guest list.
Pity Parties need expiration dates and times. If you want to have a pity party, invite your dog. They don’t mind coming. Cry it out. Get it out of your system. Commence at 11:00 and finish by noon. An hour is the maximum recommended amount of time.
Parties are not meant to go on for days, weeks or months. They burn people out.
Topic 5: Make a Plan
So, now you’ve got a lot of information, you’re stressed about something but you don’t know where to start.
Follow this foolproof model:
Now, is any of this easy? Of course not. However, it’s necessary to overcome the stresses of our current world. Remove the things in your life that create unrealistic expectations. Insert attainable and achievable goals.
Last but not least I would like to add a note.
Happiness is most commonly achieved through redirecting your attention from your own ego and psyche to other people/animals/beings.
Volunteer, listen to a friend, don’t talk about yourself, don’t think about yourself, help others, learn things that can help you help others. The less you focus on yourself during times of stress, the easier it is to move past it.
Here is a good article on the Science of Happiness.
Sending light and love to each and every one of you.